It is possible to be known by God, to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, saved and on your way to heaven when you die...and not know God yourself.
I would like to think this malady is uncommon, but I’m fearful such thinking is wishful. I run across folks all the time who know a lot about God. They can quote chapter and verse from the Bible, serve in His name, and are adept guides at navigating church and Christian concerns, but when pressed, they appear to know about God but not know Him. There are folks who speak kindly of God, pepper their language with references to Him, and feel passionately about concerns they attribute to Him, but I just don’t sense they know God’s ways.
Whoever wrote the book of Hebrews notes this lament from God, “Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know My ways” (3:10).
If you know God, you know His ways. If you know God, you know what makes Him tick. If you know God, you understand—to some degree—what He’s thinking. The indictment that Hebrews is delivering is that God’s people saw God’s works (in the wilderness), benefited from His blessing and watch care, yet they continually lost sight of God’s goal: knowing Him.
When Israel first moved to Goshen in Egypt, at the invitation of the Pharaoh, they found themselves blessed with the best that Egypt had to offer. As Israel prepared to move to Egypt, Pharaoh gave Joseph strict orders to pass on to his family, “Do not concern yourselves with your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours” (Gen. 45:20).
Over four hundred years later, when Moses was preparing to lead Israel out of Egypt, the Lord instructed that the people were to ask for the best from their Egyptian masters. “Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36).
Plundered them, the text says. That’s amazing! Israel left Egypt in better shape than when they moved in. But it’s the in-between time that we need to look at for a moment.
Exodus 1:12 notes, “But the more they (the Egyptians) afflicted them (Israel), the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they (the Egyptians) were in dread of the sons of Israel.”
Pharaoh decides the way to solve the Israelite problem is to kill all the male babies born to the Hebrew women. Instructions were given to the Egyptian midwives and their murderous task. But the Hebrew women were so strong from their rigorous toil for the Egyptians that they would birth their babies and be up working again before the Egyptian midwife could arrive on the scene to kill the newborn.
In a practical sense, the affliction of the Hebrew women resulted in the multiplication of the Hebrews. Here are two instances from Israel’s history where a principle emerges: Affliction yields multiplication—multiplication in spirit, soul, and body.
Whether it is fair to categorize Moses’ forty-year stay in Midian as an affliction or not, I don’t know. But, I would wager those forty years had haunting periods of doubt.
I suppose it’s possible a man exits who possessed power, position, and phenomenal possessions, lost it all, and never thought twice about his losses or looked back—but I doubt it. “Losing everything” isn’t worth noting if the loss is insignificant.
There is reluctance in Moses after forty years of herding sheep in the wilderness that is not evident when he is reigning in Egypt. The confident swagger of Egypt has slipped away like a desert mirage leaving a man embarrassed that he has a stutter.
On paper Moses was the perfect person to lead Israel—at least the Moses whose bedroom and dining table were in the Pharaoh’s palace. The shepherd Moses was an unlikely leader of people—and he knows it.
But the afflictions of Midian have swept away the detritus in Moses’ soul while multiplying his character. That was just what God wanted, and I’ll bet it became what Moses desired as well.
On an occasion or two God tried to tell Moses about the relationship between multiplication and affliction. In Exodus 4:21, it is made plain that Pharaoh was not going to be a willing tool in the hand of God—at first—yet, this would be an opportunity for God to reveal His power and deliverance.
Moses is just learning the principle though and still does not comprehend God’s way. He accuses God of not delivering the people as He promised. The accusation doesn’t appear to impact God’s plan any more than the letter I wrote to the Mayor affected his policies. Still, there is the accusation. Being a leader is hard work, especially when your employees or constituents don’t understand what you are doing and make accusations. I wonder if it is hard being God?
Even after spellbinding miracles—on a daily basis—the Bible notes God saying of Israel, “Yet, they didn’t know my ways.” But of Moses, scripture says God showed him His ways (Ps. 103:7).
Affliction yields multiplication. God never wastes a sorrow, but there are varying degrees of this multiplication because we, like Israel, can be prone to waste the sorrows God honors. Moses grows, changes, and embraces God’s initiative. As he progresses, he even overcomes the paralyzing anxiety of his speech impediment and speaks for God. This is noteworthy growth and courage in Moses. In addition, the divine humility by God is startling. The one who made the tongue is unfazed that His words are not articulately voiced by His stuttering spokesman.
Through his affliction, and during profound leadership challenges, a multiplication occurred in Moses. Initially, Moses talked with God in a bush that didn’t burn up. After some forty years in the wilderness, trying to lead a rebellious people, he talked with God face to face (Ex. 33:9-11).
Through afflictions God was multiplying His purpose. He was getting Israel ready to go, ready to leave Egypt, ready to plunder the Egyptians, ready to seize the Promised Land. To state the obvious: Israel would not have wanted to go had they not been unhappy in Egypt. Furthermore, Pharaoh would not have released Israel if not for his afflictions. And not the least of God’s preparations, He was preparing Moses to lead—in very similar fashion to the way He—God—was leading.
Do you see? The conflict and affliction of Egypt, the wilderness, and the Promised Land were yielding a multiplication to possess the land of promise and freedom. This is the way of God—and knowing this about God means an opportunity for development invariably is yours when hardship finds you.
It takes immense composure to not panic when the bank calls, the insurance doesn’t cover it, your friend betrays you, and your child runs amok. When sickness descends, when the storm bites, and when the killer angels come it is disarming. All of this and all that hell is capable of producing is formidable.
One of these days we will be free from this dark land, but for this time in our eternal lives we have confidence. We know our heavenly Father will not waste a single sorrow. As the guarantor of our lives, He ensures our afflictions here yield multiplication now and for eternity.